The proteus, the cave salamander, the white salamander
Der Grottenolm (German)
Le Protée anguillard, Olm,Salamandre blanche, Salamandre des grottes (French)
El proteo (Spanish)
Species: proteus anguinus
It is the only cave-dwelling chordate species found in Europe. The olm is 100% aquatic. They can be found in cool streams and lakes in karst caves in the area of former Yugoslavia and un the Venetian prealps where it was introduced in the middle of the last century. Local people call olms “the human fish” due to its skin.
There have been rumors about similar animals dwelling in the caves of the Crimea and the Caucasus but this has never been proven scientifically.
Adult olms reach the length of 20-30 cm.
They have cylindrical eel-like pinkish or yellow-white bodies with three pairs of bright red feather-like gills. They have short and thin limbs with three toes on front legs and 2 toes on hind legs. The tail is considerably shorter than the body and flattened from the sides. If the olm is exposed to the light, it can gradually turn dark. The mouth is small, with tiny teeth. The eyes are covered with the layer of skin. In the wild all the olms are blind.
Olms are secretive amphibians that go ashore very seldom. They are solitary animals. Olms are adapted to living in complete darkness in the underground habitat.
Olms are in the Red Book, so they are kept as pets very rarely. Some specimens are kept in zoos and they require the same type of husbandry as other salamanders.
Olms eat smaller crustaceans, snails and worms. They hardly ever go the ground, but at times they come to the surface to get some fresh air. Despite the fact that olms have lungs, they cannot breathe only with their help; when they are out of water they die after a few hours.
Olms can consume large amounts of food at once and then they store nutrients in their liver. Then they can stay without food for incredibly long periods of time, up to several years.
It is a very rare species.
In Slovenia olms are considered to be a national treasure; their image is depicted in one of the coins.
It is a hardy species that isn’t prone to any specific illnesses.
Olms can live up to 100 years.
Olms become sexually mature only at the age of 14 years. It is an oviparous species: females lay up to 70 eggs and place them between rocks.
Sexually mature males have swollen cloacas, brighter skin color, two lines at the side of the tail, and slightly curled fins. The male can start courtship even without the presence of a female. He chases other males away from the chosen area, and may then secrete a female-attracting pheromone. When the female approaches, he starts to circle around her and fan her with his tail. The male deposits the spermatophore, and then the female gets it into her cloaca. The courtship ritual can be repeated several times over a couple of hours.